St. Armands Circle is almost 100 years old. Originally an island in Sarasota Bay, it was purchased in 1893 by Charles St. Amand for $21.71 for over 130 acres. Amand’s name was misspelled on the deed and was never corrected when circus magnate John Ringling purchased the island in 1917. Today, it remains St. Armands Key and is considered the “Jewel of Sarasota,” with real estate prices for homes in the six figures. Ringling, always the showman, had a flair for the dramatic. He had a vision of creating a luxury development with upscale shopping around a center circle. The island was separated from the mainland, but Ringling financed a bridge to connect Sarasota to St. Armands. He named it the “John Ringling Causeway” and was the first to drive across it in 1926.
During the day, “The Circle” is an outdoor shopping mecca, a place to meet friends for lunch, book a massage at a spa, or spend a day on the white sand on Lido Beach, just blocks away. In the evening, the lights twinkle in the trees, and it becomes a gathering place. It is the site for outdoor performances, a slow stroll with an ice cream cone, or a coveted sidewalk table at one of the legendary restaurants that make up the outer ring of the inner roundabout. The energy at St. Armands Circle is magical.
How To Get To St. Armands
If you are staying in Sarasota, you can walk, run, or drive over the John Ringling Causeway's modern version, which opened in 2003. The 65-foot-tall bridge is 3,097 feet long and stretches 2.6 miles from Marina Plaza to St. Armands Circle. It’s is an hour of walking round trip, but the views are incredible. Some of the Bayfront hotels in Sarasota offer free shuttle service to The Circle. Check with the concierge when you make reservations. There are parking garages and open parking spots throughout the district.
Why You Should Visit
St. Armands is a fun shopping, dining, and event destination. At the center of the circle is a park that pays homage to founder John Ringling and his legacy with a Circus Ring of Fame. It also features marble statuary from Ringling’s own collection dotted throughout St. Armands. Donors put forth an effort to save the statues in 2007 to preserve them and enhance the legacy with 21 new classically-themed statues in white marble. The circle is intersected (like slices of a pie) into four quadrants -- purple, aqua, pink, and gold. There’s a mix of high-end and boutique shops, a day spa, restaurants, sweet shops, home decor, and art galleries in each quadrant. You can walk six blocks to the beautiful white sands and turquoise waters of Lido Beach. You can stay for an hour, for the day, or the afternoon and return later in the evening for a different experience. I visited many times to try other restaurants and stop in the various shops which stay open late depending on the season.
Pro Tip: Kilwins has the best fudge ever, and their ice cream is fantastic too.
Best Time To Visit
The unanimous verdict is that spring is the best season to visit St. Armands Circle. The temperature range from the mid-70s to high 80s with very little rain. If you want to bike or walk to the circle and shop or dine alfresco, it's a perfect time. If you're going to head to the beach in the afternoon, you will have more days with sunny, cloudless skies. Locals love St. Armands in the fall because it's the least crowded and temperatures are in the 80’s. It is also the time for special events like various car shows, Oktoberfest, and art festivals.
Best Things To Do In St. Armands Circle
Shop Around Starting At Shore
Shore is a two-level retail store in a mid-century modern building that offers shopping and dining. Their clothing brand's concept is to live outdoors at the coast, whether in Florida, Malibu, The Hamptons, or Lake Michigan. It’s a resort lifestyle brand for men and women made in the USA. The well-crafted clothes can take you from a day at the beach to an elegant seaside dinner. There are also accessories and jewelry to create the perfect look. After that, make your way around the quadrants to shop from retail favorites like Lilly Pulitzer, Tommy Bahama, and independent boutiques like Sea Glass Lane.
Pamper Yourself At The Met
The Met is a luxury independent Fashion House that offers its clients cutting-edge fashion and accessories and has a Day Spa and Salon on the second floor. The salon offers haircuts and color treatments for men and women and hand and foot luxuries like manicures and pedicures. The day spa offers a myriad of packages or individual services. There are also restorative body treatments that combine purifying, detoxifying, and exfoliating your skin. Whether you book a massage, facial, or a full-day retreat, you are sure to feel refreshed and rejuvenated after your experience.
Enjoy A Beach Day
Lido Key Beach has 3,000 feet of soft white sand that meets the Gulf of Mexico's calm, warm water. The gorgeous blues and greens will have you swooning at first sight. Once you recover, you will notice fewer people here than on Siesta Key, which makes for a relaxing beach day. There are no lifeguards at Lido Beach, so that is something to keep in mind as you swim and enjoy the water. The beach is marked in a natural state, which attracts shorebirds and is a habitat for wildlife. The best part about Lido is that you can park in town, have lunch, and make your way to the beach for the rest of the afternoon to soak up the sun. When you need a refreshment, return to the circle for ice cream to cool off.
St. Armands Circle Restaurants
Shore Diner is a modern eatery just upstairs from the retail store at their mid-century building on St. Armands Circle. The open-air deck makes the perfect ambiance for a ladies' lunch or a get-together with friends. The menus offer craft cocktails, small plates for sharing, fresh and healthy salads, fish and meat entrees, and handhelds like tacos and burgers. There are some elegant plates for dinners like Shrimp and Scallops over lemon risotto or down-home items like Diner Meatloaf with forest mushroom gravy. Whether you choose a burger and truffle fries or the Roasted Red and Golden Beet Salad with grilled chicken, you will enjoy everything about Shore.
Venezia Italian Restaurant
Venezia has the perfect spot on The Circle for people watching, but that’s not the only reason to eat there. They are known for their pizza, pasta, and seafood dishes. Even though it is one of the largest restaurants on St. Armands, and the artwork on the walls adds to the exciting decor, the outdoor seating is the best choice. The evenings are lovely outside, and the service is efficient for a busy trattoria. Venezia has all the Italian favorites like Chicken Parmesan and Lasagna, but it’s the fresh seafood that really elevates their pasta entrees. Other seafood must-haves include the appetizer Seafood Scampi. It comes with shrimp, clams, calamari, fresh tomatoes, mussels, and artichokes in a scampi sauce with pizza crostini and could substitute for a meal. The portions are enormous. The wine list has some nice bottles, and the prices are reasonable. It’s a perfect place to sip wine and eat a plate of delicious food or enjoy a pizza outside on a warm Sarasota evening.
Columbia was named one of America’s most historic restaurants by USA Today. Columbia has seven locations around Florida, but the oldest was established in Tampa in 1905. Five generations of the same family have run Columbia Restaurant and have kept some of the original recipes on the menu since the beginning. This location is the oldest restaurant in St. Armands, which opened in 1959. This award-winning establishment is also charming. The open-air dining room has hand-painted tiles seen from the patio while dining or walking by. The lush plantings along St. Armands Circle make you feel like you are in a tropical paradise. The menu has Spanish and Cuban entrees that include seafood paella and crusty, melty, Cuban sandwiches. A popular lunch is the famous “1905” salad and Spanish bean soup with chunks of chorizo. The salad is legendary and has iceberg lettuce, julienned ham, swiss, tomato, olives, Romano cheese, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic dressing. The sangria is famous as well. You can order it with red, white, sparkling white, or rose wine. You can have it by the glass or by the pitcher for $24 and sip it while watching the people walk by.
Pro Tip: The sunsets are legendary on Lido Beach. Check the time when the sun sets and make your dinner reservations after that. See the sunset and then have dinner. For a casual option, grab a pizza at Venezia and some beach chairs. Then park at the beach for the evening to enjoy the spectacular show. It is a beautiful ending to a perfect day on St. Armands.